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|Mr Austen's Lanthorn
Written by Julie W
(Sunday, 11 January 2009, at 11:48 a.m.)
The Ball last night was very pleasant but not full for Thursday. My Father staid very contentedly till half past nine-we went a little after eight- and then walked home with James and a Lanthorn, tho' I believe he Lanthorn was not lit,as the moon was up. But this Lanthorn may sometimes be a great convenience to him-My Mother and I staid about an hour later..... Letter 39,Le Faye Edition of the Letters
It sounds , from this passage, as if the lantern-or lanthorn - that Mr Austen had in Lyme was a new item to the family arsenal of belongings, especially as JA takes a little time to describe its satisfactory use to Cassandra.
Mr Austen's Lanthorn was not lit because of the sufficiency of the light given off by the moon: note that many balls and assemblies were deliberately arranged to coincide with a full moon, giving the attendees the chance( if it was not cloudy) of being able to go to and fro in some light- hence the name of the Lunar Society, a "society" of men such as Josiah Wedgwood and Matthew Boulton etc who met up once a month generally at the time of the full moon to give them the chance of light on their journeys to Matthew Boulton's home, Soho House, then on the outskirts of Birmingham.
Here is a plate from the book Mrs Hurst Dancing by Diana Spurling showing the Squire and his sisters travelling across country on foot to get to a dinner party- he is shown carrying a lantern in readiness for the trip home in the dark .
Lanthorns were traditionally made not of glass but of horn, hence their name. As this passage from Making Fire and Light in the Home pre 1820 by John Caspall explains:
Horn is infinitely more durable than stretched skin and is much less susceptible to slitting which properties rendered the material to be greatly preferred above all others. Even when glass finally came to be available in thinner and cheaper sheets, horn continued to be widely used as a material for lantern windows.
And here from the same book, is an example of an early 19h century "lanthorn" with thin sheets of horn used instead of glass, I thought you might like to see:
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